“Why is it that with the institution of marriage, it is no longer a given that people will stay married?”
Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier, the Director of The Shmuz, posed this question when he spoke on behalf of Emet on Motza’ei Shabbos, February 11, at Beth Gavriel. The Emet couples event drew a packed audience of Sephardic and Ashkenazic couples of all ages and all different levels of observance. Everyone was there to enjoy the delicious sushi and to focus on the vital mitzvah of shalom bayis.
Rabbi Akiva Rutenberg, Co-Director of Emet with Rabbi Mordechai Kraft, welcomed the crowd and shared some of the work of Emet. He invited everyone to join Emet’s annual big fundraiser on Wednesday, March 1. He also spoke about the first Israel-Italy trip and Poland trip scheduled for Emet. In addition, he spoke about a new division of Emet in Arizona called Emet Arizona, under the direction of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Weiss. He also thanked the corporate sponsors of the evening, Caring Professionals. He expressed hakaras ha’tov to Beth Gavriel, which has been a home to Emet these past 13 years. In addition, he thanked Mrs. Dina Fuzaylov who coordinated the event. Emet is a multifaceted educational and outreach organization whose mission is to spread the beauty and relevance of Judaism and Torah to young adults. Hundreds of students attend weekly classes and lectures, Shabbatons, and special events, which are held on eight college campuses. Emet, which is based in Queens, is one of the most rapidly growing and successful college-campus outreach organizations in New York City.
Following this, Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier shared his eye-opening shiur titled, “Dumb mistakes Smart Couples Make.” Rabbi Shafier shared that 80% of divorces in our community should not be. They come about because people don’t understand marriage and their role in marriage. He noted how Avraham and Sarah had impeccable shalom bayis, yet the angels thought it was important to add to their shalom bayis by pointing out that Sarah was in the tent. She was modest. Also, Hashem changed Sarah’s words to calling herself old instead of her husband. Rabbi Shafier pointed out that we can always improve and add on to our shalom bayis.
He noted that the single greatest obstacle to any marriage is when we view ourselves as the center of the universe. He pointed out that most business partnerships eventually end. A marriage is meant to be for a lifetime. Men and women, boys and girls, have different interests and different natures. So, he stated, not a single marriage should work. Hashem created tools to help couples to succeed. He then listed some of those tools.
The first tool, infatuation, is instant. However, it is not love. The couple needs to work on bonding and attachment. He shared that the leading cause of divorce today is fighting. Most marriages have at least one irreconcilable difference. Two reasonable people can find solutions to these issues. What is vital is a climate of love and the feeling that we are in this together. Rabbi Shafier explained that it is not the issues that cause problems but how the couple deals with those issues. There must be, he emphasized, a climate of love. Shalom bayis requires a lot of work.
Rabbi Shafier then asked the audience, “How many times did you go out together alone this week?” Couples need to spend time bonding, to create a love together. They need to work on the romantic part of the marriage. One of the dumb mistakes couples make is they stop working on the romantic part of the marriage. Couples must go out once a week. He warned, “If you don’t do it, you will pay the price.” He added that couples should send flowers and texts and go on mini-vacations every few months. Rav Pam taught that the courtship, which started when you first met, must continue.
Next, Rabbi Shafier taught that we should not judge others by our own emotional standards. He dramatized a woman shrieking in fear because of a bug. Though her husband may not understand the extreme reaction, he should not judge her from his point of view, but try to understand her emotional state. He suggested thinking to ourselves, “that’s strange,” when our spouse reacts or does something we don’t understand. This gives us time to try to gain some understanding. This opens us up to possibilities. We need to understand that our spouse feels things differently.
He then shared that 90% of shalom bayis issues are solved if you understand that a woman needs to feel cherished and loved and connected. She craves her husband’s attention. Women make connections more readily by nature. They talk in order to form connections, while men are more logical. Men and women speak for different reasons. Men speak to communicate logical ideas. Women speak to share their world, to connect and bond. A man needs to learn to feel with her and to validate her feelings – not to solve a problem.
Women, on the other hand, often give unsolicited advice. He emphasized, for women, that “it is not your job to improve your husband.” We spend so much time trying to change each other. It doesn’t work. We need to accept this. This is destructive, especially to men. A man needs to feel respected, capable, and competent. It is counter-productive and destructive to try to change him.
Rabbi Shafier concluded with a lively question-and-answer session.
By Susie Garber